Grey Matter: An Intimate Exploration of the Trauma of the Rwandan Genocide

By Monica Obaga,

Grey Matter is an experimental feature concerning the aftermath of the Rwandese
genocide. The film opens with a filmmaker trying to make a film.

Balthazar’s film, ‘The Lifecycle of a Cockroach’ comes to life. A man and woman are
patients in the same psychiatric ward, one a victim of the genocide, the other, a

The first act sees the madman in a small, locked room talking to a cockroach he has
trapped in an upside down jar. Jp Uwayezu’s madman is spine chilling, a man unable to escape his past. His crimes during the war are exhibited like an under-produced stage play, which somehow makes everything more poignant.

The second act is quite warm, if only in contrast. We see a lonely sister and her ward, a traumatized brother, whom she supports with a job that steals the little dignity she has left. She leaves for work while her older brother Yvan, a seemingly ageless man, brushes his teeth and goes about an ordinary daily routine with a motorcycle helmet over his head. The subtle oddity is difficult to ignore. The film capitalizes on moments with the camera’s steady, unforgiving gaze.

Ruth Nirere Sashel’s performance as Justine is a triumph. Ramadhan Bizimana’s Yvan, psychologically impaired and absent, lends her weary dispassion and loneliness the only reason to live. She seems to be fighting for some semblance of normal life, having already lost the rest of her family, while her brother’s survivor’s guilt propels him further into madness. Their empty life eventually builds up to a heart-wrenching climax that is the soul of the film.

The lack of music score, slow pace, space between characters and backlit medium
framing, create timelessness, blurring Rwanda then and now, clearly the main character in the film.

“A story about the porous borders between reality and parallel realities. Like in film. Like in life. My life.”

Grey Matter’s opening and closing scenes seem to be a statement on the writer-director, Kivu Ruhorahoza being the first Rwandese director to make a feature in his home country, particularly his experience of storytelling about the genocide as a Rwandan, from memory.

NB: All references to the genocide are brief and visualisation, symbolic.

Watch Grey Matter on Buni+


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